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4 Ways Writing Is Like Running

If you’re one of the millions of individuals who want to write a book “someday,” you may be struggling to turn that someday into today. Similarly, running might be that “impossible” thing and now I consider myself a runner. Here are 4 things writers can learn from running.
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Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

If you’re one of the millions of individuals who want to write a book “someday,” you may be struggling to turn that someday into today. Maybe you’ve tried, and you think it’s just not in you, or you think you’re not good enough or don’t have enough willpower to succeed.

But, if you think about it, you have found success in the past—if not at writing, then at something else, and perhaps at something that you thought was impossible for you. Maybe you set a goal and worked towards it, or you lucked into it, or succeeded in some other way, but it happened. And you can replicate that success in other aspects of your life—including writing.

For me, running was that “impossible” thing—I’ve always been a pretty sedentary person—and now I consider myself a runner. Here are 4 things writers can learn from running.

1. You don’t have to be “good” to claim the title.

Depending on the day, the location, the weather and how I’m feeling, my run may be very short or a bit longer. I may work on my speed or go for an easy jog. My “best” pace will never be fast, and running a marathon isn’t something I even want to do. And that’s ok. I’ve improved a lot since I started, and I know I’ll keep improving. So I consider myself a writer.

If you want to be a writer, you don’t have to be good. (In fact, when you start, you probably won’t be good, which means you’ll get to experience the great joy of improving at something that’s important to you.) All you have to do is write regularly. Or even just semi-regularly. Which brings me to my next point…

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2. It doesn’t really matter if you stick to your plan.

I like to use the running plans on the Nike+ app so I know when and how much I should run. For a while after downloading the app, I’d drop out of each training program after missing a run or two and stop running completely, full of despair at my inability to follow a running plan and certain it demonstrated the futility of even trying. Eventually, I realized the obvious: Even if I missed runs, I was still running. I could just keep going as if I hadn’t missed a run, or I could even start a new plan for a clean slate immediately after dropping out of one. The plan wasn’t the point. (If you're having trouble staying motivated while running, storytellers might also enjoy fun apps that make running into a game, like Zombies, Run!)

The internet is filled with articles and books on how to “hack” your productivity and get things done. And they can be very helpful for writers, but keeping up with those plans is not the point. If a writing plan or productivity hack seemed to be successful at the outset but you didn’t keep with it, that doesn’t mean it failed. If you start November by participating in NaNoWriMo and don’t “win,” that doesn’t mean you failed. You still wrote something.

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3. Sometimes you’ll enjoy it. Sometimes you won’t.

Recently I went for a three-mile run outside on a sunny day. It was the first nice day in a while, and I felt great. My joints moved smoothly, my lungs breathed freely, and I was sweaty but comfortable. A few days later, after a bad night of sleep and a busy day, I headed outside and expected another great run—but just getting to one mile was an enormous effort. And there have been other times when I was well-rested and felt bad on a run, or vice versa.

When you’re writing, sometimes you’ll get into the flow and you can go on for hours. Other days, each word will feel like pulling another tooth. We certainly want more good days than bad, but don’t think that if you have a bad day you’re a bad writer (or, worse, that it’s not worth writing at all).

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4. You have to start.

The great thing about running and writing is that it’s ok to stop following your plan. The difficult thing is that you have to keep starting. Every single time. Even if you do manage to stick with your plans.

The trick is to make starting as easy as possible. Some days, I tell myself that all I have to do is put my running clothes on and take a walk around the block, and that counts. Some days, I tell myself that all I have to do is write 10 words. I usually do more, but sometimes I don’t. Either way, it gets me started.

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Consider: What is something that used to seem "impossible" for you (like running was for me) that you succeeded at? What made your success possible, and how can you apply that to your writing practice? Are there aspects of your life that count towards your writing practice that you’re ignoring?

For more on the importance of getting started and continuing forward, check out A Writer’s Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld:

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